Girl vs. Monster
Take a little bit from Hocus Pocus, a little bit from Ghostbusters, and a scandalously unused title, mix it all up, and out pops a kids vs ghosts adventure that deals with the nature of fear. Disney Channel Original Movie Girl vs. Monster features children standing against the fears that cripple and control their lives, preventing them from becoming their full potential. Of course, all these fears are just simple things represented by ghosts/monsters making fun of them, but to a teenager, that’s totally the worst thing ever. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that are the biggest problems.
The monsters/ghosts are technically manifestations of fear of the living, though they essentially act like ghosts as far as the plot is concerned. They haunt you in your lives, making you more scared, from which they grow their powers. Yeah, it’s a sort of weird Monsters Inc. thing going on, and it doesn’t really make much sense when you think about it too hard. In fact, the lead character Skylar Lewis’ fear monster is the queen evil witch Deimata, and because she’s been trapped for the past 15 years, Skylar knows no fear. Like Daredevil. But then Deimata is released and Skylar is suddenly afraid and the witch is looking to possess her soul. Like Ben Affleck.
The fear equation seems like it is some sort of statement about not having fear control your life. Skylar’s friends are all cowards of various degrees, thanks to their own monsters who haunt them, controlling their lives by making them to afraid to try much of anything. The handsome boy Skylar is crushing on knows no fear, thus he’s popular. Eventually, the scared kids learn to fight back, confronting and conquering their fears by bullying them in turn. Luckily, all their fears are easily deflected, and the ghosts that haunt them dumber than a wet bag of rocks, so the worm turns quickly. There is no real fear, no real horrors, no kids shocked so traumatically they desire to end their lives or live forever entombed in their own minds. This is an entirely fictitious representation of fear, which makes it ring hollow. I understand that they were trying to make a point, but they end up just making a blunt object. Yet blunt objects can still drive in nails.
The squeaky clean world of Disney would never allow the horrors of reality to scar their channel and their audience of pre-tweens. Their Official Disney Kid Replicant Factory is hard at work churning out the next generation of clean upper-class California cool kids, all magically ethnically diverse yet having identical faces. This entry’s model is Oliva Hold, who looks the part so well it is as if Disney crafted her from the bodies of the failed earlier models. She’s joined by Brendan Meyer and Kerris Dorsey, who stand out for not fitting the normal Disney profiles, but they only deviate enough to be In Universe acceptable as the target of bullies. The love interest shares no such deviations, he’s Ryan Dean (Luke Benward), and not only is girl melting handsome, but also the leader of the bland rock band that everyone goes gaga for. And his character is saddled with a low-rent Sharpay from High School Musical as a girlfriend. Katherine McNamara rises above her role, but she has little to work with. Until she’s taken over by the evil Deimata, at which point things become cool for a brief period. McNamara is the break out star in my opinion, which is the correct opinion.
Skylar’s ultimate ambition is to sing with Ryan in his band, a chance she has, though the monsters come to ruin things. OMG, what will Skylar do if Ryan thinks she’s not the coolest girl in the universe? Probably just die.
None of this rich kid problems talk is really what Girl Vs. Monster should be remembered for. The simple fact is the villains make the story, and Deimata is a formidable opponent. Her looks and her story makes the Hocus Pocus comparison’s inevitable, so let’s just get it out of the way and say she doesn’t compare to the three sisters from that flick. Her character is different, as is her interactions with her two ghost pals, Anna Galvan as bitter old school marm Theadosia and Stefano Giulianetti as a creepy scarecrow Bobb (neither are credited with their names, I had to pull them from dialogue!) Just why those two work with her is a mystery, perhaps Deimata has great power and they like being around that. Or maybe they’re old friends and have been together for countless child hauntings. In any event, it’s lucky that the children they haunt are friends with Skylar. Or maybe its more than a coincidence. Maybe it’s destiny. Or maybe this whole thing was a setup by Skylar’s mom to teach her about her destiny as a monster hunter by putting the entire town in danger. Always bet on conspiracy!
Bobb’s scarecrow ghost monster with a pumpkin head is the freakiest of the villains, and the one with the potential to be genuinely scary. But he has to be neutered to save the tykes from wetting the bed, and thus he’s also the easiest to defeat.
The monster battling parents Steve and Julie feature large swipes from Ghostbusters. They are two Ghostbuster wannabes in welding masks and black trench coats (literally have wrist proton packs and trap the monster in a CD discman player!) The parents realize something is wrong because there are more monsters than usual for this time of year. Skylar is unaware of their real job, thinking they are mold experts, which is their undercover identity. SKylar also doesn’t seem to wonder why there is always a big mold convention on Halloween night. The monster hunter lineage comes from Skylar’s mom’s side of the family, though Cobb’s existence shows it’s not a female-exclusive trait. But it is a family trait, and shows the dangers of family legacies on unprepared children.
Stuard Gillard directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and WarGames 2: The Dead Code, along with the two Twitches Disney Original Movies. Writer Annie DeYoung is a veteran of tv movies, including Princess Protection Program and Return to Halloweentown. Her cowriter Ron McGee is closer to our traditional television movie interests, with genre flicks Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America and Atomic Twister
Girl vs. Monster gives us a world were if you are born with special ghost fighting powers, it’s what you have to do, sorry, no excuses. Skylar’s entire choice system is tossed out the window, she’s forced into her destiny of taking up her parents and grandparents mantle. If anything, it teaches kids that life won’t really give you everything you want, but you got to make the best of what you have. Which will involve the handsome boy liking you and you being a hero to the entire school. Of course, what it taught me is it is cool to be a fear monster, I just not need to waste time with childish bullies and just scare those kids into a coma. Thanks for teaching me to be a better villain, Disney! What is weird is a lot of these same themes – fear monsters, family legacies – are covered in the SyFy flick Heebie Jeebies! Both may be considered horror films, Heebie Jeebies because a monster is killing people, Girl vs. Monster because the horror is lack of freedom and psychological manipulation via removal of emotions.
Girl vs. Monster‘s theft from Ghostbusters is not the only Disney Channel Original swipe, Rebel Radio is a sort of clean cut version of Pump up the Volume, Life-Size is a version of Mannequin. Often these watered down versions can seem like they are just as useless as many other carbon copies, but I disagree. The key is to find out what they are saying inadvertently. The clean cut sugar water world that Disney projects hides many problems in the dark. An analogue of Skylar’s reality, where she knows no fear because it has been hidden away, the world of Disney knows no problems because they are hidden away. It’s a manufactured society created around Disney child stars 50 years in the making, sold as the very same fairy tales Disney puts in theaters. Except the handsome prince isn’t a real prince, it’s a cute surfer kid in a band with wicked hair. Platonic rock is the rebellion against an even more platonic vanilla norm. Skylar’s confidence comes from a cheat, without fear she has no objections to doing anything, and rightfully would probably be dead from walking in front of a bus with no fear. The introduction of fear almost destroys her, though thanks to the Disney origin she easily overcomes her fear in 20 minutes, just in time to save the day.
The villain characters may be cardboard cutouts, but they are memorable because they stand out in a world full of generic goodness. And I so love villains who do bad because they like to do bad. No stories about how they were neglected as a child, just pure wanting to be bad. Even the evil girl character Myra is happy to be mean, because it means she gets her way.
While Girl vs. Monster may entertain the kiddies, it offers little for adults but a small sense of annoyance at seeing films you grew up with cannibalized and used for parts. It may even inspire a caring parent to force their kid to watch some classic film. Had Girl vs. Monster pushed the bullying angle more, it could have been a great film that also featured some good messages. Instead, it became #FirstWorldProblems The Movie, and devolves into a mess, stubbornly held together by some of the performers (and a hint of nostalgia). Interesting, but fails to hold a place as a Halloween classic. Now if you excuse me, I got to go wait in a pumpkin patch. It’s a very sincere pumpkin patch.
Rated 7/10 (decoration foreshadowing?, that’s my licence plate!, that’s my van!, land shark high five, he’s coming to probe us all!, scariest costume ever, scariest scene ever!)
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